I know this one couple that always consults with me before they go to the movies. Since they have kids and are only able to go rarely, they want to make sure they choose wisely. The reason they trust me is because years ago they wanted to see Mystic River and I told them they would enjoy it as long as they realized that it wasn’t a good movie. If they went in thinking it was, they would feel upset and cheated and robbed of their precious free time. If they watched it understanding it was bad but entertaining, they’d be fine.
That same rule applied to the first season of The Killing. It quickly became an exercise in freeing yourself from the belief that you were watching a good show, where things like character and consistency mattered. Instead, what you were actually experiencing was something not good, yet still atmospheric and addictive and starring actors whose faces it felt exceedingly pleasant to stare at. Once you were able to accept that, you were golden.
Then came the finale, which you’ve probably all read and complained about at great length. What I will say is that my major problem with that finale was not that Rosie Larsen’s killer was still at large. (In theory, I didn’t have as many problems with the red herrings as other people since pursuing leads and eliminating suspects is, after all, what detectives do.) My issue was that, by the end of the season, everything that you thought you knew about every character was wrong. And not in a “cool, this town is full of secrets” kind of way, but more in a “this show is being held together by Scotch tape” kind of way. Rosie was a nice girl except for when she was a high-priced sexual escort. She had an overprotective mom except for when said mom decided to ignore her for large stretches of time. One of the cops investigating her death is loyal and true to his partner except for when he is lying to her and being an entirely different person.
After a while, with both character beats and plotlines getting picked up and discarded willy nilly, it began to feel like a Choose Your Own Adventure book written by a stoner kid. Dude, what if instead of choosing one direction, we chose all of them?
Which is why last night’s Linden and Holder situation was so troubling. Their relationship is the heart of the show. The affection that passed between them grounded us and allowed the show to veer off course for longer than it would’ve been able to otherwise. And this is the season premiere! Is it really possible that the writers don’t understand that and are willing to sacrifice even them in the name of a twist that will probably be dropped three episodes from now? For now, this appears to be the case. Despite the fact that Linden eventually opens up that motel room door and teams back up with him, we will remember that Holder turned on her like it was nothing. And while I realize that he claims he had his reasons, I already know what those reasons are because I was paying attention and understand basic mechanisms of narrative and so I am skeptical that he’s going to bust out with something that will be substantial enough to justify the needless minimizing of a character that I had grown quite fond of.
It doesn’t bode well that he has reunited with his boss and NA sponsor, Gil, from whom he got the fabricated tollbooth photo and who appears to be connected to a vast network of corrupt politicians and law enforcement officials all intent on unseating a mayoral candidate in the most elaborate and least efficient way possible. With Gil, we are supposed to believe that this is the man who supported Holder during the darkest hours of his life, who was such a cunning chameleon that even a street-smart cop like Holder fell for his act and gave his faith over to him entirely. Too bad the actor they cast seems like every bad guy you’ve ever watched on one these things. I’m surprised they didn’t just write “bad guy” next to the phone number that Linden copied off the wall at the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting she crashed.
After Linden, who spent her childhood bouncing around foster homes, once again pulls the rug of stability out from under her son, she spends most of the episode trying to clear Richmond’s name. Some of the most tedious moments of last season came from following his story line and now it appears that the writers have a pulled a sort of “What’s grosser than gross?” joke on us, except in this case, it’s “What’s more boring than watching the inner workings of a mayoral candidate’s campaign?” Answer: a paralyzed mayoral candidate’s campaign.
Considering how impossible it is to get Jaime (or Richmond’s sister) on the phone in this episode, Linden re-interviews Gwen instead, asking her a few questions that she probably should have asked before she arrested her boyfriend. Such as, “Did you guys happen to be creepily staying at the same inn where he proposed to his now-dead wife, on the five-year anniversary of his doing so? Was it by any chance located on a body of water, the kind that might account for his being soaking wet? And, one last question, I promise, but do you know if he has a time-stamped photo taken with that dead wife at that inn with that body of water in background? Because that’d be super helpful, thanks.”
The realization that Linden isn’t a good detective was a sad one for me last season. It took me a while to believe it, but now that I have it’s like getting a glimpse of your daughter’s crime-scene photos that your lead detective’s son has e-mailed across Seattle: There’s no unseeing. I do still love Mireille Eno’s stocky sense of purpose. I love the way she delivers her lines. I love her two sweaters. If only the writers would just let her go off script and solve the crime on her own, I feel like she’d have this mystery sewn up in no time.
Meanwhile, the Larson clan is in shambles. Always skirting the line, Belko has now slipped into full-blown cliché crazy person state, complete with fetal position rock. Stan is trying to keep his family together without telling his boys, Rod and Tod, that their mother has left them. And Rosie’s backpack shows up, left outside the front door by her killer? Someone who knows who the killer is? Whoever it was, they sure knew how to preserve a bloody handprint. Holder is called to the house and he bags up everything he finds inside.
Holder is told by Oakes to take the backpack to a new guy, but he switches it with his own instead. Something isn’t sitting right with him about this case. Maybe it’s the photos he was handed earlier that day (“I know you were hoping for a face, but the best I could do was a super specific Japanese tattoo”), or maybe it’s because there’s a part of him that remembers that last season he was playing a real cop working a case instead of one caught up in a conspiracy that feels in danger of stretching out almost as long as that punk kid’s (remember him?) earlobes.
After Linden pieces it all together, she visits Richmond at the same hospital that Hershel from The Walking Dead must have interned in, because Richmond is looking mighty robust considering he was shot the day before. He asks Linden if she has any idea what a suicide attempt does to a mayoral campaign. She doesn’t retort with, “Probably not any worse than being arrested and shot in front of your supporters,” but instead apologizes for once again causing a suspect to end up in the E.R. and slinks out. There’s a whole host of new, interchangeable authority types swirling around her, a D.A. who is on her side (for now) and a new Oakes who isn’t, but I’m not going to pay much attention to these people. Loyalties in this show shift with each new gust of wind. In the opening moments, Oakes appeared to be a sympathetic ear. By the end, he was full-blown corrupt.
The final moments had Stan returning to his former mob boss and demanding that he find Rosie’s killer and then whack them. The music that plays after he says this is the kind that normally plays when something surprising has been said, which makes me think that they must have made a mistake and mixed in the wrong song. But, like I said, I’ve freed myself from the belief that I’m watching a good show. It’s liberating.